By Brennan Dubé | Canada
The Libertarian Party of Ontario has seen impressive growth over the past several years. I had the pleasure of interviewing new party leader Rob Ferguson to find out the party’s plan on how to improve, sustain and grow.
The party only fielded 5 libertarians in the 2003 election. This year, however, 117 candidates ran for office. This growth is immense and is the key to making a fringe party move towards legitimacy. In the 2011 race, the libertarians fielded 51 candidates out of a possible 107 and garnered 0.45% of the popular vote. But in 2014, improvements continued as the libertarians ran 74 out of a possible 107 and scored 0.81% of the vote.
With recent riding expansion, the 2018 election map for Ontario now has 124 districts. The Ontario libertarians were able to field 117 candidates (94.3%): almost a full slate. Even though the party only got 0.75% of the popular vote, they nonetheless picked up a record high of 42,918 voters across the province. The libertarians have now placed fifth in each of the last three provincial elections in Ontario. With the number of candidates that they ran last time, they are now a significant minor party in Ontario politics. I had the privilege of interviewing former deputy leader and now current leader of the Ontario Libertarian Party, Rob Ferguson.
Dubé: So, you’ve been a part of several political parties in the past, NDP, Family Coalition and now the Libertarians. can you go through how your experiences were with each party and how you came to the realization that the Libertarians are the best party for you?
Ferguson: I grew up in a conservative family and often helped to campaign as a youth for candidates in my hometown of Brantford. I can even remember our families home was turned into a campaign HQ on some occasions. As I grew up I decided to become a member of the New Democratic Party of Ontario. My stint with the party lasted less than a year after I realized my views didn’t fully align with the party. I found myself then exploring the Family Coalition Party of Ontario. I had always been about family values and the party initially seemed to align well with my views. During my time with the party I worked to train candidates, I even ran for office in the 2007 provincial election.
During the time leading up to the provincial election in 2011, I found that my views didn’t fully align with the party and following some disappointing circumstances I left the party and just hours later found myself in contact with some executive members of the Ontario Libertarian Party. I ended up coordinating and training 12 candidates in the 2011 provincial race, and I ran myself as well. I have always been about family values and the party’s positions on individual liberties, property rights and personal responsibility fit me perfectly. I felt at home with the party, I came to the realization that yeah, this was the party for me.
Dubé: How would you define libertarianism and who are some of your biggest political influences?
Ferguson: From a philosophical standpoint, libertarianism is so unique and when you start to apply the basic principles of libertarianism to issues we see brought up every election you see that yes, this makes sense. The notion of personal responsibility and property rights are key points within the libertarian ideology. One of my biggest influences is former Prime Minister Wilfred Laurier. He is a prime exemplar of classical liberalism in Canadian politics. I also find myself often quoting Margaret Thatcher. One quote of hers I often find myself repeating is, “The problem with socialism is that eventually, you run out of other people’s money.”
Dubé: As the new leader of the Ontario Libertarian Party, how have you helped to ease the transition out of the Allen Small era? Also, how closely did you work with Allen Small during his time as party leader?
Ferguson: Allen Small did a ton for this party as its leader, and he has left us in a very good place going forward. I definitely worked as close as I could with Allen during his time as leader and we spoke with each other very often, maybe even on a day to day basis. Allen did a great job as the leader; he was always on top of things and he put a ton into his job. Now that I have taken the mantle from him I think that the number one priority should be to amend our party’s constitution and make it more coherent with the digital age. This would open doors to our membership and make things a lot better within the party.
Dubé: You once stated during a debate that the Liberals are about big government, the Conservatives are about big business, the NDP are about big unions and the Greens are about big trees, was this something you previously thought of before going into the debate?
Ferguson: This was something that just came to me during the debate. We were in a school for the debate and I looked to the back and saw some tree paintings on the wall and the “big tree” line hit me. Actually, this became kind of a coined thing, each debate I saw larger gatherings and people actually said they were coming out now to hear me finish with that line. It became a recurring thing, it was quite funny.
Dubé: What is your opinion on Maxime Bernier’s new party and would you advise Canadian libertarians to join them or stick with Tim Moen and the Libertarian Party of Canada in 2019?
Ferguson: Well it’s refreshing to see more and more liberty minded people putting their names out there are trying to bring legitimate change. I’ve ran many times here in Brantford and I’m seeing more and more liberty minded candidates also run here. However, I am skeptical of the party, what I say is simple, you can either join a new party that may or may not last or you can stick with a movement that’s been growing for 40 years and is seeing its absolute best growth now. I welcome Bernier and his new party to the table but if he was a true Libertarian he would have got up and crossed the floor in the House of Commons. People are free to join whatever party they wish, but as for me, I’m sticking with the Libertarian Party.
Dubé: It’s no secret that the Libertarian Party of Ontario has become well established over the past few election cycles. How can the party maintain and build on this growth?
Ferguson: We’ve seen incredible growth; over the last few elections we’ve seen votes go up, membership go up and candidates go up. To maintain our growth, we need to continue to aim towards running full slates. By updating our party constitution and by-laws and fixing internal policy we can help make modernize the party. A few of the ridings that we weren’t able to fill candidates in were up in Northern Ontario and by targeting those areas in 2022 and continuing to run full slates we can continue to see solid growth and work towards winning seats in the next few election cycles.
Dubé: You’ve run for office many times. What would you say is the most effective way to connect to voters and meet people in the community?
Ferguson: It’s always been tough for me because I am legally blind, so I do not drive. But I’ve found that attending as many events as possible and spreading the message is the best way. In the age now of social media when you spread the message to a few it can reach many so just getting out and speaking to as many people as possible is truly the way to best engage voters. Here in Brantford I think I have succeeded in that, just recently I was out at a store and an individual turned to me and said, “hey, aren’t you Rob Ferguson?” and I laugh because my wife says it seems like we can’t go out anymore without people coming up to me or recognizing me.
Dubé: The Ontario Libertarian Party just wrapped up its Annual General Meeting last weekend. Can you give us some insight on how things went and overall how enthused the members of the meeting were about the party going forward?
Ferguson: Overall, things went very well. We had a good turnout and nearly 70 delegates attended, which is good for our AGM’s. One of the best parts about it was seeing Allen Small come through the door and I realized after a little while that there were three past party leaders present. That to me is quite special; you never just have three past party leaders attend a party’s event. Usually, when you end off your time as party leader, it’s the end of your career and you step back a little. However, to see that these three were still eager to help make a difference and still impact the party was something great.
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